Dev Diary: Exploring the Emerald Coast

June 9, 2023

G’Day hunters! How ya going?

My name’s Grégory Moreau (Greg for short), and I’m a Narrative Designer on theHunter: Call of the Wild. As the title suggests, I work with narrative in all its forms: writing stuff (stories, characters, dialogue, description texts), co-designing missions and last but not least, crafting our characters together with our voice over talent. 

Today, I’ll give you a sneak peek into what my day to day looked like during the development of our newest map, Emerald Coast Australia. Read on to find out about how we come up with our narrative as well as the voices for our characters!

Everything Starts with Research

We in the dev team put a lot of love and effort into creating as immersive a reserve as possible. Our goal is for Emerald Coast to feel like an authentic hunting experience for you, that both Aussies and non-Australians can recognize and enjoy.

There’s no way we can do this without extensive research, and that goes for all disciplines (Game Design, Art, Animation, etc.): for Narrative, this meant digging into Australian culture and history – as well as getting familiar with local hunting regulations and unique conservation challenges.

For example, in Queensland (one of the states we drew inspiration from), hunting is only allowed on private grounds, and if you have all the appropriate permits. Private land owners in Australia sometimes manage huge lands, so it’s quite common for them to hire professional hunters to help with population management efforts, and they arrange all the permits for them. 

This became the basis of our “narrative framing”, i.e. the overall fictional context of the world we build; that’s also why the world you’ll explore in Emerald Coast is not a hunting reserve or a national park, but private land – unlike many of our previous reserves. Although we don’t always spell out those facts directly in game, they form the basis of my work and are required before I even get to the first line of dialogue or text.

I also read a lot about the serious conservation challenges caused by the numerous invasive species introduced to Australia, which not only impact local ecosystems but also the economy and people’s livelihoods. Invasive species are a major threat that society as a whole is responsible for: in Australia, it’s every citizen’s duty to help by reporting or shooting the animal themselves if they can.

So with all of those in mind, it felt natural for us to focus the story on those challenges.

Game Development = Collaboration

In a non-story-driven game like theHunter: Call of the Wild, where player exploration and freedom is at the heart of the game, the narrative (such as characters, missions) shouldn’t dictate the other parts of the experience: we wouldn’t first lock down the story and characters, then decide on the animal roster based on it, right?

So we start with gameplay first, and more specifically our animal roster: what are the new species for the reserve? Which animals are the most iconic or culturally significant? For this reason, we decided early on that our main missions had to feature “roos” (eastern grey kangaroos) and “salties” (saltwater crocodiles), as well as feature the environmental challenges posed by introduced species as a focal point of the story.

In addition, a lot of my job as a Narrative Designer has to do with talking to other developers, and letting their work inspire my narrative – and vice versa. How does that take place in practice? For instance, me and the Mission Designer Ruben worked very closely with our World Designer Tony, in order to know where each biome and hub would be placed. We also worked with our Artists to align on the vision for the two man-made hubs, and how they could fit in in the main mission storyline. We go through this process to make sure the story feels like an integral part of the world you’re exploring, rather than something disconnected.

The last significant contributor to our games is our devoted community – you! We read and listen, and we try to take your feedback and suggestions into account. We knew that many of you have enjoyed side missions in previous reserves, and have been requesting more of them; so that’s been a big focus of ours. So in addition to the story missions, Emerald Coast will feature 12 Side Missions, many of which feature hunting challenges.

Finding our Characters’ Voices

Like for New England Mountains and Mississippi Acres Preserve, we’ve centered the story around not one, but two voiced “Wardens” – although they’re not technically Wardens since Emerald Coast is not a national reserve as we now know 😉

Having two characters was especially important for a hunting location set in Australia: we wanted our dialogue to feel informal, friendly, fun, and we wanted to recreate that unique brand of Aussie banter as authentically as we could, but hopefully not in a stereotypical and exaggerated way. Friends in Australia can tease each other a lot, but never in a mean way; at the same time, they’ll support you through life’s challenges.

Soon, we settled on exploring the relationship between two lifelong friends (dare I say “mates”?):

  • Sophia (“Soph” – nicknames are the basis of everything in Australia!), the farmer who owns the “station” and a keen hunter;
  • and Robert (“Robbo”), a conservationist and wildlife educator who found his calling watching Steve Irwin’s shows growing up.

Together with our awesome voice over casting and recording partner, OMUK, we obviously cast two Australian voice actors – Aussies would be able to tell if the characters were putting on fake accents. 

But how can you create that chemistry between two fictional characters, as if they were lifelong friends? What we did is something that’s not very common in game dialogue recording sessions: both actors were in the recording booth at the same time and actually recorded their dialogue together, responding to each other.

That’s when the magic happened: the dialogue lines you write and rewrite somewhere in a database suddenly take on a life of their own, and become more authentically Australian. The banter starts happening both during and between takes; Aussies start debating whether using the word “dinky-di” is appropriate or feels outdated (and they didn’t always agree), or how often the word “mate” is too often – or not enough.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the way we create stories and characters in theHunter: Call of the Wild, and I hope you’ll have as much fun exploring the Emerald Coast as our team had making it! 

Have fun mate!